Blogs > HNN > Keys to the White House Point to Turnabout in 2008

May 14, 2005 9:36 pm

Keys to the White House Point to Turnabout in 2008

Mr. Lichtman is a professor of history at American University and the author of The Keys to the White House (1996), a prediction system based on a study of every U.S. presidential election since 1860.

Although the next presidential election is three and a half years away, the Keys already point to a dramatic political turnabout in 2008. It is still too early for a definite prediction. However, the Keys suggest that the Democrats are likely to regain the White House in 2008 regardless of their choice of a nominee. The difficult historical position of the Republicans also explains what’s happening in politics today.

I developed the Keys system in 1981, in collaboration with Volodia Keilis-Borok, a world-renowned authority on the mathematics of prediction models. History shows that the choice of a president does not turn on debates, advertising, speeches, endorsements, rallies, platforms, promises, or campaign tactics. Rather, presidential elections are primarily referenda on how well the party holding the White House has governed during its term. The Keys give specificity to this idea of how presidential elections work, assessing the performance, strength, and unity of the party holding the White House to determine whether or not it has crossed the threshold that separates victory from defeat.

Retrospectively, the Keys accurately account for the results of every presidential election from 1860 through 1980, much longer than any other prediction system. Prospectively, the Keys predicted well ahead of time the popular-vote winners of every presidential election from 1984 through 2004. As a nationally-based system the keys cannot diagnose the results in individual states and thus are attuned to the popular vote, not the Electoral College results. The 2000 election, however, was the only time since 1888 that the popular vote verdict diverged from the Electoral College results.

The Keys are 13 diagnostic questions that are stated as propositions that favor reelection of the incumbent party. When five or fewer of these propositions are false or turned against the party holding the White House, that party wins another term in office. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

According to the Keys, the incumbent Republicans are precariously positioned for 2008, with only four keys likely to fall in its favor. Four keys are uncertain and five Keys are likely to fall against the party in power. Thus, the GOP forfeits the White House in 2008 if the likely positive and negative keys line up as anticipated and just one of four uncertain keys falls against it.

The following four keys currently favor the incumbent Republican Party.

*The lack of any prospective third-party challenger with prospects of winning 5 percent of the vote tilts the third-party key towards the GOP.

*The absence of social upheavals comparable to the 1960’s, likely avoids the loss of the social unrest key.

*The lack of a significant scandal on the horizon that implicates the president should avert the loss of the scandal key.

*No prospective Democratic challenger matches the charisma of Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy, probably keeping the challenger charisma/hero key in line for the incumbents.

The following five keys are likely to fall against the incumbent party.

*The Democrats need to win just four U. S. House seats in the 2006 midterm elections to hold the GOP below their total seats after the 2002 midterm elections,toppling the mandate key.

*The Republicans are likely to battle fiercely in choosing a nominee to replace George W. Bush, forfeiting the contest key.

*Bush’s inability to run again in 2008 dooms the incumbency key.

*With bitter partisan divisions in Congress, Bush is unlikely to achieve the policy revolution needed to secure the policy-change key.

*The GOP lacks a prospective presidential candidate with the charisma of a Theodore Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, jeopardizing the incumbent charisma/hero key.

The following four keys are uncertain.

*Both the long-term and short-term economy keys depend on unpredictable future trends in economic growth.

*Likewise both the foreign/military success and failure keys will turn on unforeseeable events abroad and in homeland security within the United States.

The difficult prospects for Republicans in 2008 explain much of today’s politics. The 2006 midterm elections are so critical because the mandate key turns on the outcome. The president and Republicans in Congress are pushing for the “nuclear option” to end judicial filibusters by majority vote because this is likely their last chance to pack the Courts with reliable conservatives. And the president is bucking public opinion on the rewriting of Social Security to win the pivotal policy change key for 2008.

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Jim Blowers - 5/27/2005

My count is 7 keys down, 4 keys up, and 2 uncertain.

I agree with the 4 keys that are up for the Republicans. I don't think we can tell on the mandate key 1 as yet. We may have a free-for-all among Frist, Guiliani, McCain, and Allen, but the result of that could be one of these pulling out a huge lead over the others. In fact, that is more likely than not. So we can't tell on the contest key 2 as yet. I think that both economic keys will fall, because Peak Oil will occur before 2008, ruining the economy. Skyrocketing oil prices will send this country into inflationistic recession. I don't see any foreign/military success keys on the horizon, and Bush has had his success already with Iraq. The continuing quagmire there will be a foreign/military failure. So both of these will fail.

If something prevents the Peak Oil recession from occurring before 2008 (wind power or plugin hybrids or something), then the count would be 4 keys for, 5 against and 4 uncertain, and then it looks really close but still favoring Democrats.

Thomas W Hagedorn - 5/18/2005

The four uncertain keys are huge. I don't think anyone has a clue at this point. By the way, the Opinion Pollsters just had their annual convention and the most important issue for voters in the 2004 Presidential Election was Iraq, not moral values. Gallup backs this analysis as well.

Edward Siegler - 5/17/2005

Interesting article. The only thing I'd add is to consider the extremely powerful political skills of Billary, um, I mean Hillary Clinton with her Clintonism, er, Hillaryism. That is, his/her ability to capture the coveted middle ground in politics. Clinton is the sharpest political operator of our time and may well become the first person since FDR to win a third term, and become America's first de facto co-President.

Richard Jensen - 5/16/2005

I have followed Professor Lichtman’s 13-keys model for some years now and find it intriguing. It is a device to predict the future; it does not purport to explain past events. The idea is to have a 13-point checklist that can be used a few months before the election.

Now Professor Lichtman is trying something new: a sort of meta-prediction. He is predicting not the election itself but his 2008 keys. He assigns 4 for the GOP, 5 for the Democrats, and 4 unknown, thus advantage: Democrats no matter what candidate or platform.

One key I wish he would incorporate is. Does the opposition nominate a crusader who gets attacked as too crazy or too radical? (Howard Dean, say…or Perot, McGovern and Goldwater. The Democrats were so fearful of falling into that trap last January that they fell back on a very weak non-Dean alternative, John Kerry.)

Key 5 deals with the 2006 elections. The GOP seems to have the advantage in Senate races; at present nobody could possibly guess knows which way the House will turn, so it seems best to move that key into the Unknown group.

Another key he gives to the Democrats is problematical: “The GOP lacks a prospective presidential candidate with the charisma of a Theodore Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, jeopardizing the incumbent charisma/hero key.” On the contrary, I suggest that the leading contenders right now are indeed charismatic: McCain and Giuliani. I think Rice is also charismatic and that she is very likely to be on the ticket as VP – but possibly in the top spot, if Cheney resigns and she becomes VP. So that key should be pro GOP.

My new count: five keys for the GOP, three for the Democrats, and 5 unknown. Advantage GOP.